Tribe Puts Its Chips On I-651 And Loses After Spending Wad, Tribe Faces Probe Into Where Money Came From
The Spokane Tribe rolled the dice on Initiative 651 and lost big, spending a state record of more than $833,000 only to lose in every single county.
The tribal gambling measure got clobbered by 3-1 statewide.
The initiative would have allowed slot machine gambling on tribal lands and removed most state regulation of tribal games.
Fresh from defeat, the tribe now faces a fight in the federal courts, and a state investigation of just where the money came from that poured into the campaign.
The Spokanes have gone to court to keep the slot machines now in operation on tribal land. State officials contend the machines are illegal. The case is pending in federal court.
Meanwhile, the state Public Disclosure Commission is investigating the Yes on 651 campaign to determine if the Puyallup, Shoalwater Bay or Spokane tribes spent money on the campaign that actually came from outside gambling interests.
A complaint filed last summer alleged that money was put into the campaign by gambling interests hoping for a cut of the action if the measure passed. That would violate state laws against concealing the true sources of campaign contributions.
The tribes deny the accusations. No outcome is expected in the case until at least January.
Buzz Gutierrez, a leader of the Yes on 651 campaign and operator of the Double Eagle Casino near Chewelah, said the fight against the initiative boiled down to continued efforts by whites to beat down Indians.
In an impassioned speech Tuesday night he promised the Spokanes would keep fighting for their Godgiven right to provide for their people - with slot machines.
“This started in the 1880s and it’s still going on,” Gutierrez said, referring to attacks on the tribe. “The true issue is tribal sovereignty, and we are still fighting for it.”
Ken Hansen, treasurer of the campaign, said I-651 was a victim of “economic racism” by opponents bent on keeping tribes poor and powerless.
Back on the reservation, some said they hope the courts still will deliver what the voters denied.
“This was just the voters’ opinion,” said Greg Abrahamson, owner of the Lil’ Chiefs Casino near Ford, Wash.
Abrahamson said he didn’t regret the tremendous cash the tribe poured into the campaign. “It’s worth the try. If you didn’t put it out, you could always say, ‘Well, they could have put more into it.’ You wouldn’t really know what would have happened.”
Abrahamson said he felt “a little bitter” about the loss.
Iva Rajewski, a 75-year-old tribal member, said gambling has brought jobs to the reservation for the first time in years.
“It’s something that probably isn’t good for everybody, but it certainly is good for the people who have the jobs.
“The Spokanes don’t have anything left. The mines are gone, the trees are gone. This is one of the last resorts to make an income for their people.”
Rajewski, who was elected to the Wellpinit school board Tuesday, said she initially opposed gambling. “I am not a gambler myself but I’ve seen the good things that have happened from the income from this gambling.
“I’m sorry it didn’t pass. I don’t know what they will do now. But they will come up with something. Indian people are used to being knocked down, you know.”
The measure passed 319-16 in Wellpinit at the heart of the Spokane Reservation.
In the Walkers Prairie precinct to the east, the vote was 107-38 in favor; while in Hunters precinct, just north of the reservation, the vote was 205-123 against.
In the Camas precinct - also just north of the reservation, including the town of Springdale - the vote was 107 yes and 121 no.
Turnout at the polls in Wellpinit was 70 percent.